Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Framing Pain

By Dorothy Greco

Due to chronic pain, sleep often evades me. When the insomnia happens for more than five consecutive nights, I have to draw upon every ounce of my spirituality to get through the dark hours without cursing God or descending into despair. Suffering reveals the extent of my powerlessness like nothing else. And to be honest, I hate it.

Franciscan priest Richard Rohr writes, “Our lives are a spectacle of helplessness.” This is not my preference—I love to be in control—but as I age, I cannot argue with this reality. My spiritual work is to discern how to find God in the midst of the helplessness.

In my experience, the locus of our internal struggle as we suffer revolves around two central questions: “Is God good?” and “Will anything redemptive rise up out of this?” While our suffering often feels arbitrary and meaningless, I believe that God embeds unique gifts under the wrapping of pain, disappointment and grief.

Though we face an incredible loss of control and objectivity during these junctures, we actually do have power over how we respond. Jerry Sittser writes in A Grace Disguised:
The experience of loss itself does not have to be the defining moment of our lives. Instead, the defining moment can be our response to the loss. It’s not what happens to us that matters as much as what happens in us.

Our carnal response is typically to demand, “Why is this happening to me?” Asking this question in the midst of suffering is similar to driving a mini-van in thick mud—it only gets us more stuck. I’d like to suggest an alternative question for God; “Would you be with me and teach me how to be more like you?” This paradigm gives me traction out of meaninglessness and self-pity. It also enlarges my soul, giving me a greater capacity to love and offer empathy to others.

By using this frame, I’ve found a better way to endure those sleepless nights. I recall many of the tangible ways God has blessed and provided for me: a loving husband, believing children, a roof over my head, three meals a day, vision, my friends. This stills my mind and miraculously allows me to believe that God is fighting behind the scenes on my behalf. My body might still be dragging the following day, but my spirit has the will to live and continues to believe. Though I would never choose the road of suffering, I am grateful for the ways that it has transformed me into the image of Christ.

Dorothy Littell Greco lives in a household of males (5 if you count the dog) just outside of Boston, MA. She pastors, writes, and compulsively makes photos of beautiful things. You can find more of her work on her website, www.dorothygreco.com.


  1. Hi Dorothy,
    Your post is timely. My sister had a hysterectomy today and is in pain right now. I am sending this to her.

    I also resonate with the idea of "finding God in the midst of our helplessness." I cannot always make life work. I am not always healed. I know the misery of insomnia. I am helpless. Yet, God is always with me and he is good.

    Thank you for writing vulnerably and beautifully - even in the midst of your pain. I've been encouraged today!

  2. You are welcome Peggi. Thank you for reading and for taking the time to write. I wish I did not know anything about this topic but alas, even tonight, it's 2:00AM as I type. Many blessings.

  3. Hi Dorothy- I really enjoyed your post. Though I cannot fully relate to the physical pain part at this season, your reminder that God is always working behind the scenes no matter what we are going through is encouraging and uplifting...No matter what we our going through our attitude is always framed by our perspective...I often need this reminder to refocus on God to shift my own perspective on life's circumstances.

    By the way I recognized your name from my own days in Boston! My (now) husband and I spent some time at the same church as you and your family in Cambridge (:

  4. Hi Lisa. Thanks for writing. I am so soothed by remembering God's presence behind the scenes.
    Were you part of the Greater Boston Vineyard in the new location over on Rindge or when we were in the school along the Charles?